Understanding Utah’s child abuse reporting law

Recent news stories remind us why it’s important to understand and review the child abuse reporting law in Utah. Unfortunately, the events of these cases remind us how possible it is for well-intentioned adults to fail their legal obligation out of ignorance of the law or confusion about to whom they should report to.

In the state of Utah, Law 62A-4a-403 requires any person who has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse,or neglect to immediately notify the nearest office of Child and Family Services, a peace officer, or a law enforcement agency. Utah’s child abuse reporting hotline is 1(855) 323-3237

Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. It’s especially important for Teachers, Administrators, Counselors, Doctors, Coaches, Clergy, and other adults working with youth to understand the specifics of this very important law. Remember:

  1. If a child reports something to you, then YOU must make the report to the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). You cannot report to a supervisor and allow the supervisor to determine whether a report should be made. If you receive a disclosure of abuse or have reason to believe abuse is occuring, make the call yourself. Clinical professionals at DCFS are trained to receive and evaluate reports of child abuse and work through legal channels to determine how to investigate reports. Once a report is made, DCFS becomes legally responsible for handling the case in an ethical way.
  1. DCFS requires these three pieces of information in order to open and investigate a case:
    • The child’s first and last name,
    • A location where the child can be found (such as a school or daycare)
    • Details of the abuse
  1. 90% of the time, a child is abused by someone within their circle of trust. This means that the abuser is often a family member or close family friend. Unfortunately this may mean that the abuser is in YOUR circle of trust. The urge to protect and shield a friend or acquaintance from consequences is understandable, and it is your responsibility as a mandated reporter to make the call. Children can only heal once abuse is stopped and they are connected to help. This is why reporting is so important.
  1. Disclosures are kept confidential and you can report anonymously if you wish. 
  1. Utah has a “Good Faith Clause”. If you report the abuse and DCFS investigates and finds that nothing happened, you cannot be held accountable in a court of law. Even if you are unsure if something would qualify as abuse, you can still report. It is DCFS’s job to determine if something is abuse, and it is your job to report it.
  1. When a child tells you about abuse, follow the ABCDs of Disclosures:
    • Assure the child that they did the right thing by talking to you. It takes a great deal of bravery for a child to report abuse, especially if they’ve been threatened or manipulated by their offender. Remind the child that the abuse wasn’t their fault and that you’ll do everything within your power to help them. 
    • Believe the child. Children rarely lie about child abuse.
    • Remain Calm. Receiving a disclosure of abuse about someone you know can be overwhelming. Expressing shock, anger, or panic can scare a child or cause them to retract their story. Stay as calm as possible so the child feels safe and able to share. 
    • Let the Child Talk: When a child reports, ask open ended questions and statements and let them tell you about their experience in their own words. Statements and questions like “Tell me more about that”, “What did you mean by this?”, or  “What happened next?” work best. Do not ask leading questions as they can alter a child’s memory or encourage a child to change their answers.This can cause future tellings to sound “coached” and can be detrimental if the case goes to court. 
    • Determine the child’s immediate needs: if a child is in immediate danger or if you witness the abuse, call 911. Otherwise, call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1(855) 323-3237 to report all suspicions and disclosures of child abuse. 

Keeping children safe is the responsibility of the entire community. Kids are resilient. They can and do heal from abuse, but they can only do so if we advocate for them by reporting. An adult who reports abuse can make all the difference in the life of a child who has been abused. By reporting child abuse, we ensure that children are connected to the resources and support they need to heal.

Laurieann Thorpe is the Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah